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In Merc, ex-CM speeds past death

Hyderabad, Sept. 7: N. Janardhan Reddy’s snow-white Mercedes today raced past death by a whisker, a bucket landmine hidden by suspected Maoists catching a trailing Ford Fiesta and blowing to bits three members of his convoy.

Had the Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha MP’s car been doing 60kmph instead of 90, there was no knowing what would have happened, the police said.

The former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and his wife Rajyalakshmi were proceeding to Tirupati via Nellore for a convocation when the landmine, concealed in a cement pipe below a culvert, went off at 6.20am.

Set off by camera flash technology, the landmine caught the fourth car — Janardhan’s was second in the 15-vehicle convoy — in the middle, blasting off the front and central sections into a field 10 yards away and the rear in another direction.

Driver Mallikarjun and Congress workers Nagarjuna Reddy and Dashaiah were killed, two of the bodies mangled beyond recognition.

“I have never seen such damage to any single vehicle in any Maoist landmine explosion. The impact was so huge that two bodies were reduced to a mass of blood and flesh,” said Nellore police superintendent P. Lakshmi Reddy.

“Had the vehicles travelled at 60kmph, at least two more vehicles would have been blown up,” another officer said.

Janardhan has been on the Maoist hit list since he banned the People’s War Group — a precursor of the CPI (Maoist) — in July 1992 during his term as chief minister.

A similar attempt was made on his life in February 2003 when he was touring Dachepalli in Prakasam district. Then too, the landmines had missed his convoy.

“I am not worried about myself. They could have killed me. But I am sad at the death of two of my dedicated party workers,” Janardhan said.

Rajyalakshmi, the state women and child welfare minister, added: “We are in shock. It is not the time to comment who was behind the episode and who was the target.”

Their long-time driver, Krishnan, would only talk of speed. “We were racing at 90-100kmph as Ayya (Janardhan) was to be given an honorary doctorate at Sri Venkateswara University,” he mumbled.

The police said wires to the site of the explosion were drawn from as far as 2km away and were wound around a tree in a green “cover”. The landmine was set off from a distance of 200m.

Another bundle of wires, estimated to be about 3km long, was found by the tree, possibly a contingency measure for remote-blasting in case the camera flash technology failed, they said.

The police suspect the attack was the handiwork of new Andhra Maoist secretary Shakamuri Appa Rao. Now No. 5 in the hierarchy, he reportedly shifted out of the Andhra-Orissa border area recently.

The Maoists are believed to be cut up with Janardhan because the police allegedly killed over 250 of their colleagues in encounters during his two-year regime.

“Many arrested Maoists were taken to Warangal town, tied to trees and shot from point-blank range,” a police source said.

Sources said Ashanna, the Maoists’ bomb expert who laid the claymore mines that nearly got N. Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 on way to the Tirupati temple, may have designed today’s landmine.

Chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy spoke to the couple, who cut short their visit to Nellore and returned to Hyderabad, over the phone.

“We have been able to control Maoist activities in the last three years. They have resorted to this attack only to prove their existence,” he told reporters.

Another person who has been targeted by the Maoists is Telugu Desam leader K. Yerran Naidu. He was badly injured in a landmine attack while campaigning near Srikakulam during the 2004 polls.

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